Femaelstrom column: Hikes with Heather and the dogs
“OK,” I say to Heather. “What kind of dog is Norris?”
She hesitates a fraction of a beat.
“I think part Lab and blue heeler,” she says.
Norris is tense, meaty: all rippled slabs of muscle. He must weigh 80 pounds.
“He’s a monster,” says a man on the trail. I also think he’s a bull terrier.
Heather and I, longtime friends, are a bit of a funny combo. She loves dogs, loves dogs. I am afraid of them. I was attacked once by a German shepherd, have canine-teeth scars on my belly. I am fine around nice smiley goldens and such; we had beagles and retrievers when I was growing up. But I avoid shepherds and any other dog with a rep.
Heather has driven us to the trail, Marion Gulch, with her arm stretched awkwardly back between the seats to keep Norris from nosing forward.
Yesterday, the rescue center where Heather has helped out for years — walking dogs, fostering them, helping displaced animals during wildfires — called asking if she could take Norris. He had been there for weeks, hadn’t been adopted, clashed with other dogs. He was stressed and needed a break.
Here she can’t take him off the leash. That’s the rule; and, as she puts it, “He’s a lot of dog.”
Immediately on the snowy trail, we see three women with six dogs, all loose.
“I don’t know how he’s going to do,” Heather says.
“Let’s walk away,” I say.
We loop backwards, but then still catch up.
I first met Heather when my friend Dave brought her to our office Christmas party … at least 15 years ago. Friends have come and gone. Dave is gone. But if there is a constant, it’s that Heather brings dogs when we hike, and sometimes when we climb.
Often it was Jack, her little Labrador, before he died. Other times she brought boyfriends’ or friends’ (they all swap care) dogs as well as shelter dogs. Daisy, Baloney, Hudson. Sally, Frodo, Piglet (who snorted). Marvin, Peaches, Porkchop, Crumpet (who insisted in getting in the shower with Heather). A lot of shelter dogs are pit bulls, which have trouble being adopted.
One evening I was out walking up toward the old cemetery when I saw our friend Claire with a dog. She said resignedly, “Heather got me to take him.”
As we skirted a cattle guard, Claire for one second let go of the leash, to pass it to me, and the dog bolted. He took off — chasing a fox. Claire and I looked at each other aghast; we didn’t even know his name. “Hey!” we yelled. “Come back!” The dog ignored us, speeding along with his ears and tail streaming, the fox running. Around and around they circled.
Finally, the dog blundered back, and we pounced.
Now, at Marion Gulch, Heather and I shout warnings to others, and rein in Norris as people and animals pass. We try to chat together, but she struggles to hold onto him. On our return, downhill, Norris pulls her off her feet, and she foot-skis helplessly behind.
The next weekend she brings a harness. She also says he has been a good boy, quiet and a “cuddle bug,” at her place.
“Norris got adopted!” she tells me a week later.
She thinks it helped that he had been on two overnights, gotten good reports.
“Norris hasn’t been returned!” she says a week later.
Another week later: “Sally got adopted!
“But …” mournfully: “Norris got returned.”
Heather brings dogs to our hikes on the Arbaney Kittle, in No Name and to stroll around town on First Fridays. Sometimes the dogs wear bibs saying, “Adopt me.”
We always talk to people when we have dogs. I like the community, how people ask about each other’s animals. I like how the dogs love the walks, and that dogs have to be walked, which gets people out.
Habits are contagious. Heather also volunteers at an animal preserve in Utah called Best Friends. Thanks to her, so has our friend Tracy, and Tracy’s sister, Tammy; and Heather’s sister, Laurie, who didn’t intend to but came back with a dog; also our friend Randall and her daughter; my sister Lucy and her son; and four others of Heather’s friends.
Returning from Marion, I talk on the phone with my son, soon to graduate from college in Vermont. He wants to do some area hikes with his friends before leaving. He says, “Hey, we should pick up a shelter dog to go with us.”
“Femaelstrom” appears on the third Friday of each month. Alison Osius lives in Carbondale, where she is a climber, skier and magazine editor. Contact her at firstname.lastname@example.org.
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